This article examines Shakespearean colourblind casting from a variety of angles, interrogating the 'glass ceiling' that remains prevalent in contemporary British theatre. By offering a brief survey of early examples of the practice of colourblind casting in Shakespearean roles, it seeks to establish casting patterns in the ensuing decades: typically, patterns of very few black, Asian or mixed-race actors and even fewer playing lead roles, instead being cast as members of warring factions or as supernumeraries. This analysis is informed by an attempt to quantify available data that includes major companies and regional theatres, examining 225 productions over a time span of 30 years. Research is drawn from archival materials held at the RSC and National Theatres, as well as local production companies, offering an insight into the ratios of white to ethnic minority actors in productions, the types of roles and the casting of understudy parts within contemporary Shakespearean theatre. The article also considers the perpetually contentious nature of the practice of colourblind casting through the lens of the socio-political events (such as the murder of Stephen Lawrence) that have coincided with specific moments in British theatre history. In doing so, it seeks to challenge commonly-held assumptions regarding the 'inclusive' state of contemporary productions of Shakespeare's plays, instead revealing their perpetuation of the dominant stereotype of Shakespeare as the preserve of the white cultural elite, as well as their assimilation of the practices of the wider entertainment industry, in which non-white actors are significantly underrepresented.
Race,Racism,Colourblind casting,Shakespeare,Contemporary theatre,RSC,National Theatre,Nationhood,Multiculturalism,Post-colonialism